WASHINGTON – The Defense Department is defending Turkey’s decision to bomb Kurdish rebels in northern Syria amid concern that the NATO member is using its alliance with the U.S. against ISIS as a pretext to defeat an old enemy, the independence-minded Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, which also is assisting the U.S. against the jihadist army that has taken over large portions of Iraq and Syria, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
After the PKK claimed responsibility for the execution-style murder of two Turkish police officers near the Syrian border, Turkey bombed PKK fighters in northern Syria and non-PKK Kurdish fighters who are assisting the United States against ISIS. Turkey opposes the PKK’s aim to create a greater Kurdistan with portions of southern Turkey, northern Syria and northern Iraq.
Responding to G2 Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal insisted, however, there is no connection between “deeper cooperation against ISIL (ISIS) and Turkey’s strikes against the PKK.”
“We support the government of Turkey’s efforts to combat terrorism, even as we are mindful of the need to avoid tensions between those who are committed to and engaged in the fight against ISIL (ISIS),” Seal said in an email.
“We strongly condemn the PKK’s recent terrorist attacks within Turkey – which precipitated the Turkish response – and respect our NATO ally Turkey’s right to self-defense,” Seal said.
“We call on the PKK, which the United States has designated a terrorist organization, to renounce terrorism and re-engage in talks with the government of Turkey,” she added.
“We call on the PKK to refrain from further attacks in Turkey that will prompt retaliation by the government of Turkey and encourage de-escalation by all parties and for everyone to remain committed to the peaceful ‘solution process’ to bring about a just and sustainable peace for all Turkish citizens,” she said.
Asked if the Turkish attacks against ISIS are a cover to attack the PKK in northern Syria to prevent establishment of a Kurdistan, Seal would only say, “I’d refer you to the Turks to discuss their motivation.”
The Defense Department also was silent on new reports that Turkish warplanes are attacking non-PKK facilities in northern Syria. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units claim Turkish tanks shelled their fighters near Kobani, according to BBC News.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu maintains that Turkey is fighting all terrorist organizations, not just ISIS.
Turkey, however, has been strongly criticized for the past two years for not taking steps to halt the flow of Sunni foreign fighters through the country to reach ISIS positions in Syria.
Until now, Turkey has been opposed to engaging ISIS fighters, claiming the real enemy is the Shiite government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey recently began training Syrian opposition fighters at the behest of the U.S., although there is no guarantee that the fighters will go after ISIS and not Assad military forces. For that reason, the process to vet potential fighters for training has been very slow.
The original intention was to train some 5,000 Syrian opposition fighters a year. To date, only about 60 have been trained.
Some Turkish specialists believe the Turkish government is using ISIS as a pretext to attack the PKK and other Kurds who seek to use northern Syria as a basis to create Kurdistan.
The Kurds seek to control the Kobani area, near the Syrian border, because it forms a bridge of land that would connect with the Kurdish-controlled region in northern Iraq.